If you’re walking along Central Road in Evanston and are suddenly hit by an intense aroma, it’s safe to say you’re within a block of The Spice House. If you let your nose guide you, sooner or later the store’s quaint brick building will come into sight. Through the large windows, you’ll see a picturesque arrangement of artisanal artifacts set the scene, with large grain sacks strewn along the floor. As you walk in, the fragrance of a blend of spices intensifies and the door pings cheerfully.
Inside, shelves of spices from around the world line the brick walls, endlessly broadening palate possibilities. The blends are all original to The Spice House, created in small batches by hand with simple grinding machinery. There are entire sections of the store dedicated solely to salt and pepper. Fat packets of fresh and dry herbs lay nestled amongst each other, framed by a large standing globe and culinary posters, just a few of the store’s charming decorations. The surprises are endless, with perhaps the most intriguing being the “Molecular Gastronomy” section where you can find small jars of calcium salt, agar and more. One of the most fascinating of the molecular spices is lecithin, which has hydrophilic and lipophilic properties that make it a fantastic emulsifier, perfect for blending vinaigrette dressings. Personalized labels adorn the products, hand-made by the friendly staff that roam the store, eager to share their knowledge with customers.
The Spice House was established in 1957, and the business has been passed down through the family ever since. Today, owners Patty and Tom Erd make it a point to not only sell spices, but to educate people about them too. The Erds teach high school students, older Chicagoans, and offer Spices 101 to culinary students. In the words of Patty Erd, the business is “literally the daily grind.”